Residents encouraged to conduct air tests near pipeline compressor site before construction
By RACHEL RAPKIN, Recorder Staff
Saturday, January 30, 2016
DEERFIELD — While abutters to a proposed natural gas compressor station in Northfield are concerned about what the facility will do to the air they breathe, they’d do well to take note of the current air quality, according to those who’ve researched similar projects.
During Saturday’s three-hour presentation at Frontier Regional High School, the research team that studied the health effects of a 12,000 horsepower natural gas compressor station in Minisink, N.Y., advised the approximately 100 audience members to conduct air quality measurements before, during and after construction has finished with the proposed 41,000 horsepower compressor station slated for Northfield.
Those interested in studying how the weather pattern will affect the atmospheric movement of volatile organic compounds transported in the gas can purchase a particulate matter monitor and a Summa canister for about $200 apiece, according to the research team — Celia Lewis, Ph.D., Beth Weinberger, Ph.D., and Dr. David Brown.
The monitors were used by a research team from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project to study the health effects of the New York compressor station. Eight families — a total of 35 individuals, including 12 children — living within 1.5 kilometers of the site purchased monitoring systems that collected data regarding the type and amount of pollutants that settled inside and outside of their homes.
The researchers explained that air quality is worse when living near a compressor station because toxic chemicals including benzene, methane and toluene can travel anywhere from two to six miles away from the site and can lodge deep into the lung tissue, causing cancer and other incurable diseases.
Weather significantly affects if and how far the emissions will travel from the compressor station. Sunny days allow the toxins to quickly rise upward into the atmosphere while cloudy days without any wind movement keep the toxins closer to the Earth’s surface as they slowly move through the air. Pollution, however, is most dangerous at night because the cool air stays low to the ground causing more particles to concentrate near houses. The researchers advised those in the audience who will live near a compressor station to stay inside their house when the weather isn’t conducive to healthy outside activities.
Lewis said the predominant health impacts of living near a compressor station were seen in the respiratory tract, impacted neurological functions and sometimes disturbed the skin though the development of a rash, adding that the overall quality of life for about half of the respondents was below the national average according to physical health self-assessments.
When presenting a dot diagram featuring particulate matter peak frequencies, Lewis carefully noted the difference between analyzing shorter and longer data sets, adding that even though her slides presented the same numbers, companies like Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. — planning to transport 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas through eight Franklin County towns as part of the Northeast Energy Direct project — can manipulate the facts with diagrams showcasing lower data points that were averaged over a longer period.
She pointed to a graph that showed the hourly averages of particulate matter found outside a home over the course of a month and compared that slide to one with the same data that was presented over the course of 24 hours.
“You can see that the higher peaks are about 300 and the lower peaks are about 75,” she said. “We took that same data and averaged it over 24 hours and if you look at the numbers on the side, you can see that the highest peak dropped from 300 to about 130 to 135 and those lower peaks that were 75 are now down to 20. This just gives you an idea of what a longer averaging period does to the data and how it allows companies to say that they are meeting the standard that’s low.”
If communities decide to partake in the monitoring program, Lewis advises families to also use the online survey tools such as the environmental home assessments and health questionnaires to help the EHP collect additional data regarding the impacts of natural gas infrastructure so the organization can continue educating people about the hazards of living near fracking wells, pipelines and compressor stations.
She said baseline testing, however, is one of the four main monitoring programs that communities should pursue if they wish to generate a clear understanding regarding the effects that natural gas will have on humans, wildlife and geology.
“If there’s any possibility that something is coming into your town or though your area, we really, highly recommend that you get some baseline data,” she said. “Even if it’s just minimal, anything is better than nothing at all.”
For questions, comments or concerns about natural gas infrastructure or how to conduct baseline tests in your community, call or email the organization at: 724-260-5504 or www.